Protests?

I understand the concerns over excessive use of force by police. I understand the fact that statistics and a wealth of data show that minorities are harassed more by police than are non-minorities. What I’m having a very hard time getting my head around is the degree of outrage created by the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

As I’ve noted before, and as there is indisputable evidence to demonstrate, Michael Brown committed theft and assault and most likely physically assaulted a police officer and tried to grab his gun. If I’d done all that in any jurisdiction I can think of, even as a white male American, I’d most likely be dead as well, and you can bet that there wouldn’t be hundreds of protests across the country.

Eric Garner wasn’t shot. He was wrestled down after causing a scene when police tried to stop him from continuing an illegal practice. The practice of selling untaxed loose cigarettes wasn’t what led to his death. His physical resistance and refusal to stop selling the cigarettes led to an attempt to restrain him, which proved fatal because of two factors – Garner’s underlying health conditions, of which the police had no knowledge, and the use of a supposed chokehold, which had been banned for police use some twenty years earlier, although the officer involved has denied that the hold was a chokehold. But Garner was no innocent, either. He had a criminal record with more than 30 arrests dating back over thirty years on charges such as assault, resisting arrest, and grand larceny. But the “failure” to indict a policeman ignited another round of protests.

Why is there all this outrage, as if the two individuals who died were innocents and paragons of society? They weren’t. Yes, they were human beings, but they made bad decisions, repeatedly, and they are being made out to be innocent victims of a brutal system, and all too many of the protests are attempting to pin the entire “blame” on the police. Granted, the system is at times brutal, and it needs reform in many geographical areas, but riots, demonstrations, and making saints out of people like Garner is likely to make reform even more difficult.

From a very personal point of view, these kinds of protests also anger me because they not only glorify people who don’t deserve it, but they also ignore the true innocents. I don’t see hundreds of protests for the schoolgirls and schoolboys killed every year in drive-by shootings across the country, most of whom, unfortunately, are minorities. I don’t see hundreds of protests for the truly innocent children gunned down at Sandy Hook; instead I see well-heeled and well-dressed middle-class Americans protesting that their rights to bear arms will be infringed if any sort of measure requiring weapons competency is enacted. I don’t see protests about the failure to indict financiers on criminal charges for fraudulent use of robo-signatures that have illegally thrown tens of thousands of Americans out of their houses. I don’t see hundreds of protests again natural resource companies, such as those in West Virginia, who have poisoned millions of truly innocent people.

And in the case of Ferguson, Missouri, there’s one other truly remarkable and unanswered question. Every story I’ve seen indicates that the town is sixty-five to seventy percent black, but the police force is ninety percent white, and while the mayor is black, only one of the town’s six council members is black, yet, according to news reports, less than ten percent of the black population voted in the last election. If this has been an ongoing problem, which is what all sources report, why haven’t all those minority voters turned out and voted for officials to change the system? If that low turnout is because of illegal political restrictions on voting, why hasn’t that been brought up? Either way, why aren’t the local blacks using the system by seeking the vote or voting? It would be a lot more constructive than burning down local businesses in rage, which, by the way, is in fact a crime. But then, rioting and demonstrating is a lot easier and more flamboyant than the drudgery of registering and educating voters, and then getting them to the polls. That takes work, lots of work… but that sort of work is also what brings lasting improvement and change. It also doesn’t bring headlines, which is what the media and agitators all seek.

9 thoughts on “Protests?”

  1. Roak says:

    This one shooting isn’t an isolated event. The reason there are nation-wide protests have nothing at all to do with the individual cases and more to do with an environment where militarized police forces can, and consistently do, get away with murdering minorities without inquiry, justification, or recourse. In Ferguson, there are hundreds of cases during the last few months of the police force brutalizing not only protesters but elements of the media and even state legislature members simply for getting in their way (without any actual justification or proper and required procedures for making arrests and detainment).

    This is a nation-wide issue not because a small handful of the protesters are self-detrimental opportunists stealing what they can amidst the larger chaos of the protests, but because it is the latest in a larger spectrum of similar issues going back decades.

    Voting, and the political system, is very different in white-washed Utah than in the deep south. Perpetual gerrymandering, incredibly active voter suppression both physically and emotionally, ridiculously underfunded public schools, wide scale poverty, and generations of abuse have made most people feel that there is no point to voting as either way their candidates will not make it to the ballot. And, historically, they would be correct as leading or winning candidates have often been arrested, beaten, or worse. The police force and political landscape are primarily white because there is active and deliberate measures taken to limit and prevent minority election and inclusion in these populations. There are mountains of literature on the topic.

    It is really disappointing to read these last few blog posts on the topic. Not only do they show a lack of understanding of the overall issue at play they also show a degree of detachment and, frankly, insult to the communities involved. This last one almost literally stated that the community of Ferguson was too lazy and stupid to change their lot. It boggles me that you would think that an appropriate response to looking at race relations in the US in any fashion.

    I’ve purchased and read every one of your fantasy novels to date and you’ve been one of my favorite authors. These posts have probably spoiled some of my favorite works of fiction. I won’t be continuing to buy your books.

    1. It’s too bad your view is so polarized. In fact, “white-washed” Utah is a highly gerrymandered state that is “redder” and more conservative than the state of Texas. Almost no non-LDS candidate ever gets elected, and the number of Democrats elected to the state house and Senate is so small as to make the ratios in the U.S. House look healthy and representative. And I not only feel, but know, that my views will never be even aired before, let alone considered, by the Utah political establishment.

      No matter how oppressed and repressed a group may be, that doesn’t excuse crime, especially against their neighbors and the businesses in their own community. I never dismissed the fact that the police force in Ferguson was unrepresentative, or that it had problems. In fact, I stated it bluntly. My point — the one you dismiss — remains valid. Violent protests are not the way to solve the problem, especially violent protests centered on black individuals whose unfortunate fate resulted in large part from their own lawbreaking. Tell me honestly that anything so terrible would have happened to Michael Brown or Eric Garner if they had not been breaking the law. Even some noted black columnists have noted that Michael Brown was the wrong symbol for the need to improve police interactions with minorities and to improve the social, legal, and economic status of minorities. What the degree of outrage represented by these protests seems to say, as well as your response, is that because minorities feel oppressed and marginalized, the only possible way to improve things is widescale and often violent protest.

      I don’t dispute, and never have, the conditions faced by millions of minorities and economically disadvantaged individuals in the United States, but the issue is far from as one-sided as you present it, as evidenced by the 50,000 or so assaults on U.S.law enforcement officers every year. The police are tired of that, and the minorities are tired of skeptical, jaded, and often antagonistic police officers. The violence escalates; the police militarize; and the stage is set for even more confrontations.

      The cold hard fact remains, whether you like it or not, is that violent protest and associated law-breaking doesn’t solve the problem. That takes effective political action, and mobilizing votes is required, because politicians, as I’ve often noted, only listen to votes or campaign contributions. Minorities don’t have money, but they can vote, and, I’m sorry, there are legal and effective ways to raise the number of minority voters in places like Ferguson. It’s been done elsewhere. I never said it was easy. It’s not, but it’s better than resignation, resentment, and apathy. Especially since, at best, all violent protests can do is call attention to the fact that people are angry.

      1. Joe says:

        John Crawford was standing in a Walmart in Ohio holding an air rifle—a toy he had picked off a shelf and was presumably planning to buy. He was pointing it at the floor while talking on his phone and browsing other goods. The children playing near him did not consider him a threat; nor did their mother, who was standing a few feet away. The police, responding to a 911 caller who said that a black man with a gun was threatening people, burst in and shot him dead. The children’s mother died of a heart attack in the ensuing panic. In September a grand jury declined to indict the officers who shot Mr Crawford.

        Source: The economist.
        http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21636033-united-states-needs-overhaul-its-law-enforcement-system-americas-police-trial

        The US has a police violence problem. It also has a torture problem. And an exceptional and unreasonable number of people in prison/jail (1/3 of whom are awaiting trial). And a solitary confinement problem. And a race problem.

        I personally think that government inflicting violence unaccountably is the major problem. But I understand that black people happen to get incarcerated more than the rest of us, and have even less power to change things, so feel these injustices more acutely. That also means they will react differently to a police officer than you or I would, which might be partly why their interactions with the police escalate.

        Sure, burning stuff is dumb. But people get frustrated when they do not believe they have any power. It’s not an idle belief either, since Princeton University concludes that votes do not set policy, money does. Democracy does not maintain order if it is only window dressing.

        http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9354310

        1. Votes can be very effective in replacing unresponsive politicians, especially on the local level. It gets harder the higher you go. And I’m well aware of the problem of money in government; I’ve written about it often. But money becomes more effective the less people know and the less they vote… and what a number of commenters keep pointing out is that the less control people feel they have the less they vote… and that makes things worse.

          Yes, the U.S. has a violence problem, but it’s not just the police; it’s everywhere, and the while the police too often respond disproportionately, they do so because the level of violence to which they’re responding is also higher.

          Everyone hears about the incidents such as those discussed here, but a year or so ago, a local police officer here in Cedar City saw a car that had skidded into a ditch in a snowstorm. He approached the car to ask if anyone happened to be hurt and if they needed assistance. He was open-handed, i.e., not carrying or aiming a weapon. He was shot multiple times. Because he was wearing a kevlar vest, he barely survived — after ten hours of surgery and six months rehabilitation. This sort of occurrence happens all too often, and it does have the effect of making police jaded and often paranoid. It’s also significantly reduced the numbers and quality of applicants for law enforcement positions in many areas, which also exacerbates the problem. The violence problem isn’t just police “over-reaction.” There are problems on both sides, and merely pinning all the “blame” on the police isn’t going to solve the problem.

  2. Justin says:

    I think the major issue that Roak is pointing to is the general feeling of powerlessness in the communities involved. You could interpret a lack of voting and irresponsible outbursts (looting, etc.) as symptoms of a lack of civic duty, but they also could be symptoms of broader feelings of disenfranchisement. People tend to react poorly when they feel helpless and beset upon.

    I agree that the justification for those feelings are somewhat thin in these most recent popularized examples, but they’re not completely lacking, either. Both cases show questionable judgement by both parties, not just the initial instigators. However, if the affected communities already feel persecuted, having two visible, nationalized, and complicated events both conclude in line with their perceived predjudices could do nothing but reinforce their beliefs.

    The more important and depressing takeaway I’ve seen from these events is that no one seems to be making efforts to diffuse tensions or make efforts to restore the community’s faith in the legal system. While there does seem to be growing support for always-on police cameras in some jurisdictions, and places like NYC are starting to make some noise about reducing racial profiling, the larger national issues of a distrust in a militarizing police force are still being largely ignored.

    No one is approaching the other side of the conflict, either. As far as I can tell, police forces are still largely recovering from budget shortfalls during the recession, which must leave at least some officers feeling unappreciated and underpaid for their life-threatening work. Overworked and underfunded police aren’t likely to go out of their way for things like community outreach or racial understanding.

    At the end of the day, the situations involved are very complex, involve a lot of pent-up frustrations and distrust, and fit into a much broader picture that needs to be addressed before any real resolution can occur. The persecuted communities will need to be convinced that they can, through political or legal means, improve their situation, and the powers involved will need to be convinced to let them.

    1. It’s not a question of the powers that be “letting them.” If those communities cannot or will not take ownership of the problems and advance solutions for the problem beyond the all-too-general, if often very accurate, complaints of “we’re disenfranchised” and “the police are oppressing and disrespecting us”, no real improvement will occur. If there are real barriers to elective and governmental reform and participation, then the federal government needs to get involved on a legal basis, but even if and when such barriers are removed, nothing is going to happen until the community gets involved because “solutions” don’t work very well in anything without the support of those affected.

  3. Grey says:

    One reason why people protest police killings (whether in a grey area or not) versus those by others, is that police have a legal right to use deadly force, but are killing people in circumstances that don’t seem to warrant it. Other killings (aka ‘murders’) aren’t protested because they are committed by criminals, who we hold to a different standard.

    Also, it’s going a bit too far to say things like Wall Street crimes and ecological issues aren’t protested. The ‘Occupy’ movement comes to mind and the Keystone pipeline has been protested also.

    1. But the “Occupy” movements were far more limited and went nowhere, as did and will the Keystone pipeline protest.

      1. Grey says:

        The Occupy movement went nationwide; we had one in my city for a while. It also contributed to a renewed focus on inequality in our politics that continues to this day. Maybe the memories are fading, but it had appeal and staying power; we can quibble over it, but I wouldn’t call it limited in any way.

        (I too question the effectiveness of protesting, when compared to voting or throwing money at an issue.)

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